Chicago Blackhawks v Phoenix Coyotes

Hockey Day Preview: Patrick Kane, James van Riemsdyk, and the 2007 draft

Back in 2007, there was a debate as to who the Chicago Blackhawks should select with their first overall draft choice. On the one hand, there was a small, skinny undersized American who was piling up points with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. On the other hand, there was the big power forward that looked great with the U.S. National under-18 team. Both were viewed as “can’t miss prospects.” And three years later, both players are proving the scouts right.

Patrick Kane’s meteoric rise to stardom is pretty straight-forward. He played with the United States Developmental Program for a few years until he moved to the OHL a year before his draft year. During his single year in juniors, Kane played alongside fellow blue-chip prospect Sam Gagner and put up astronomical numbers. In 58 games, he had 62 goals and 83 assists for 145 points. When Chicago picked him #1 overall, no one thought twice about their decision. When he entered the league as an 18-year-old and scored 72 points in his freshman campaign, it seemed pre-ordained.

Kane’s first year was only the beginning of his charmed NHL life. Following his Calder Trophy year, his team started to experience the same levels of success that he’d experienced individually. As part of the rebuilding project in the Windy City, the Blackhawks had assembled a stable of young forwards and defensemen that were the envy of the entire league. They were able to make it to the Western Conference Finals in 2009, only to fall to the more experienced (and defending Stanley Cup champion) Detroit Red Wings.

Kane scored a very respectable 14 points in 16 playoff games in 2009. But like his teammates, he learned some valuable lessons about raising the bar when the games meant the most. In 2010, the Blackhawks had matured into an elite team while finishing 2nd in the Western Conference with 112 points. Any thoughts that they’d fall short were quickly erased when they swept through San Jose and beat the Philadelphia Flyers in 6 games. And wouldn’t you know it; it would be Patrick Kane who would score that Cup winning OT goal in Game 6. Pre-ordained.

On the other side of that Cup winning goal was the man who went #2 overall in that 2007 draft. While Kane was celebrating his triumph, James van Riemsdyk was sitting on the Flyers bench at the end of a very different journey to the NHL.

While Kane had jumped on the fast track to the NHL, van Riemsdyk took a much more traditional route to the best league in the world. After the draft, the New Jersey native decided it would be best to head to Hockey East and the University of New Hampshire to continue his development. In his own words:

“In the NHL you must be able to play at both ends of the ice to really become an elite player in the League and that’s one area I really want to work on and keep getting better at so that I’m not considered a letdown in my own end. Once I take care of my own end, I can have some fun on offense.”

At UNH, van Riemsdyk showed the talent that made him the #2 pick. In 2007, he earned MVP honors at the U17 tournament. In 2008, he represented the United States and was the tournament’s leading scorer at the World Junior Championships. By any measure, he was a successful prospect that was showing the development and potential that any team would salivate over. As long as he wasn’t compared to Kane.

“We were both put in different situations and we were in different stages of our hockey development, and I did what I thought was best for me to be a better player.”

Even though Flyers fans and management expected him to start the 2009-10 season with the Philadelphia Phantoms, he was so impressive in training camp that he earned a spot on the opening day roster. Some people will argue that he made the jump too soon, and some people will argue that he needed to learn lessons in the NHL to become the player the Flyers hoped he’d be one day. He would show positive signs like when he won Rookie of the Month in November, but then he went through a few months that so many rookies deal with. 82 games is a long season—especially for a guy who was used to playing 30+ games each season.

This season, van Riemsdyk has almost as many goals as he did last season—in 26 fewer games. A 20 goal, 40 point season certainly isn’t out of the question for the 21-year-old. That’s right. He’s still only 21-years-old. He’s only going to get bigger and stronger—two key qualities for a power forward in the NHL. And considering the two-way game he’s already learned, he looks like he’s blossoming into the player everyone thought he’d be.

It’ll be great to see both players do their thing on Hockey Day in America. It’s no secret that Patrick Kane (and his mouth guard) will be the center of attention when Chicago takes the ice. But with each passing day, van Riemsdyk is proving that he can handle more and more responsibility. Regardless of their paths to the NHL and the differences in their play, they are both bright spots of hockey’s future and will shine for years to come.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.